Thursday, January 30, 2014

Museum going for alternative culture vultures

A few years ago, I found myself in the pokey little town of Ashfield, Massachusetts.

I had a bit of time to poke around, which is pretty much all that there was to do in Ashfield, Massachusetts. So I poked.

Unfortunately, my poking around took place early on a Sunday morning, and the Ashfield Historical Society Museum was not open. (Nor was what appeared from the outside to be the equally cool Milo M. Belding Library.)

Not surprisingly, I had better luck visiting the Worcester Historical Museum – Worcester is, after all, just a tad bit larger than Ashfield – make that 100 times larger – so one would expect the Historical Museum to be more generally available. Which it was, to my cousin Barbara and me. There, a few years back, we got to see a very interesting exhibit on Worcester’s history as a manufacturing center. (And, of course, Worcester as home ground to the smiley face, which is also highlighted in the Museum and, quite naturally, in the gift shop.)

With cousin Babs, and cousin MB, I’ve also been to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, which was quite fascinating in a seen-one-Russian-icon-seen-them-all kind of way.

Museum going doesn’t have to be all Museum of Fine Arts, DeCordova, and Isabella Gardner, that’s for sure. And it doesn’t have to be all highbrow and artiste.

If you know where to look, New England is chock full of museums large and small, and many of them are a lot quirkier than, say, the Museum of Russian Icons. In fact, New England is home to 12 museums per 100,000 population – more than double the national average of 5.9 per.

In Sunday’s Boston Globe, there was a roundup of some of these lesser known, sometimes lower brow, museums.

Massachusetts alone:

…is home to many museums devoted to subjects that stretch beyond the standard topics of history and art. We have a museum devoted entirely to golf. There are institutions dedicated to plumbing, printing, quilts, paper, and pirates. You can even find exhibitions of burnt food, airsickness bags, and Tom Thumb memorabilia.

Well, Pink Slip is no stranger to the airsickness bag museum, having blogged about that six years ago.

But I was not familiar with some of the others.

There’s a Museum of Antiquated Technology in Hanson. (There’s also a Museum of Antiquated Technology in a corner of our bedroom, devoted primarily to laptops and routers.) Among the cool stuff in the real Museum of Antiquated Technology, there are a bunch of ancient radios, and:

… a box containing a wand-like device called the “Master Violet Ray.” This obsolete medical device was once used to treat a variety of ailments, such as arthritis, acne, dandruff, sciatica, and gonorrhea.

STD’s may be a recurring New England museum theme:

At the Public Health Museum in Tewksbury, the less-than-appealing topics covered include syphilis, tuberculosis, and polio.

When I was a child who was briefly enamored of General Tom Thumb and his bride Lavinia, I would have been delighted to visit the Middleborough Historical Museum, which:

…features the child-sized clothing and tiny personal items of Charles Sherwood Stratton, the 19th-century celebrity whose stage name was General Tom Thumb.

The Plumbing Museum in Watertown has a “urinal designed specifically for women” among its treasures.

“They didn’t do well,” said Linda Veiking, the museum’s event coordinator. Women “like to sit.”

My brother-in-law Rick is a proud resident of Brookline, home to the International Paper Museum, which actually looks kind of cool, and which:

…bills itself as having one of the largest collections of handmade toilet paper in the world.

Handmade toilet paper? I haven’t checked on Etsy yet, but maybe there’s a craft opportunity for some enterprising crafter. Or perhaps Martha Stewart can get in the swing here.

Another distinctive collection with local roots is the Burnt Food Museum . It was started by professional harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, who lives in Arlington.

This is primarily a virtual museum, which was started a while back when Deborah managed to burn some cider she was mulling and decided to preserve the crisp.

If only I’d hung on to some of my culinary failures…

And a tip of the cap to Rick T. for sending me the link to this article.

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